Fitzgerald Visits Hanover

Editor’s Note: The following is a Review favorite from the archives. Former Editor-in-Chief Nicholas Desai drew this account of Fitzgerald’s visit to Hanover from Dartmouth Library’s Budd Schulburg.

The story of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1939 trip to Dartmouth for Winter Carnival is legendary, even if the best known version has it simply that the novelist got very drunk in Hanover. Even this condensed form has appeal: the man of letters who does not uphold the supposed dignity of his profession is both comic and tragic. Yet an investigation of the Budd Schulberg papers reveals a tale that, when fleshed out, gains still more gravity and comic appeal.

It’s a yarn that Schulberg ‘36 related many times in publications, at conferences, and in fictional form in his 1951 novel The Disenchanted. Like any drinking story, it seems to alter with each telling to provide maximum entertainment, usually through emphasis but occasionally in presentation of facts. (Did Schulberg really take Fitzgerald to Psi U or simply feint in that direction?) But Schulberg, the acclaimed novelist of What Makes Sammy Run? and Academy Award-winning screenwriter of On the Waterfront, tells it well each time. What follows is the ‘39 bender according to Schulberg, which is drawn from several accounts and rendered using a combination of quotation and paraphrasing. His is the controlling view, since he stuck by Fitzgerald more closely than anyone else during their brief excursion.

Schulberg hard at work on his typewriter.

Schulberg hard at work on his typewriter.

Schulberg was something of a Hollywood prince, the son of a movie mogul who had known only Hollywood, Deerfield Academy, and Dartmouth by the time he had reached his twenty-fourth year. He had graduated from Dartmouth three years before and was working for David O. Selznick, a family friend and the legendary producer who made Gone with the Wind. This would have led to a career in production, like his father, but Schulberg aspired to write. After extricating himself from Selznick, he received a call from the producer Walter Wanger ‘15 who proposed making a picture about Dartmouth’s Winter Carnival.

“I always thought of Hollywood like a principality of its own,” Schulberg reflected years later. “It was like a sort of a Luxembourg, or something like that, or Liechtenstein. And the people who ran it really had that attitude. They weren’t only running a studio, they were running a whole little world… They could cover up murder… You could literally have somebody killed, and it wouldn’t be in the papers.

“It was not something on my own I would sit down and be fascinated by, the Winter Carnival movie,” Schulberg recalled, “But it was good money; it was 250 bucks a week, a lot of money—there’s no denying it. I’d been married young. Also it was about my own place, my own college.”

Schulberg later described the Carnival as “jumping off point in time for the ski craze that was eventually to sweep America from Maine to California. But somehow in the 20’s, it had gotten all mixed up with the election of a Carnival Queen. And by the time I was an undergraduate, I mean a Dartmouth man, the Carnival had developed into a hyped-up beauty contest, winter fashion show and fancy dress ball, complete with an ‘Outdoor Evening’ ski-and-ice extravaganza that would have made Busby Berkeley green with envy.

A note from Fitzgerald to Schulberg.

A note from Fitzgerald to Schulberg.

“In 1929 the Carnival Queen was a fledgling movie star, Florence Rice, daughter of the illustrious Grantland… In 1937, the Dartmouth band led five thousand to Occom Pond in a torchlight parade to cheer the coronation of a gorgeous blonde with full red lips. The Dartmouth ski team swooped down from the hills with flaming torches in tribute to their Queen of the Snow. Champion skaters twirled on the ice in front of her throne and sky rockets lit the winter night. It had begun to look more like a snowbound Hollywood super-colossal starring Sonja Henie and a chorus of Goldwyn Girls than the homespun college event Fred Harris had fathered a quarter of a century before. One could hardly blame a movie tycoon-alumnus like Walter Wanger for wanting to bring it to the screen.

“Wanger was a very dapper man; he prided himself on being dapper in a Hollywood setting among gauche Hollywood producers. Walter was Ivy League, and he played that role of the Ivy League producer. He had the right threads on for the Ivy League; he was Brooks Brothers. And he had books—real books!—in the bookcase behind him. The only thing that bothered me—well, a number of things bothered me about Walter—but the only detail that bothered me was that he had a large photo of Mussolini framed there on the wall, inscribed ‘To Walter, with the best wishes of his friend, Benito.’ By the end of the year that disappeared into the bathroom.”

Wanger told Schulberg that the script he’d written solo was “lousy” (“I didn’t see War and Peace in Winter Carnival,” quipped Schulberg), and that he would need to bring in another writer. Schulberg said later that no matter how famous or accomplished a writer was in those days, he could be hired for a few days before being summarily fired. So he felt lucky merely to have hung on to the job and asked who his collaborator would be.

“It’s F. Scott Fitzgerald,” said Wanger.

“I looked at him; I honestly thought he was pulling my leg.” Schulberg had seen Fitzgerald some years back downtown at the Biltmore Theatre as he came out of a play with Dorothy Parker looking “ghostly white and frail and pail.” But that was some years back, and when Wanger said, ‘F. Scott Fitzgerald,’ I said, ‘Scott Fitzgerald—isn’t he dead?’ And Wanger made some crack like, ‘Well, I doubt that your script is that bad.’ He perhaps said, ‘Maybe bored him to death,’ or something like that. But Wanger said, ‘No, he’s in the next room, and he’s reading your script now.’” Schulberg went to meet him.

“My God, he’s so old,” he thought then. “His complexion,” he said later, “was manuscript white and, though there was still a light brown tint to his hair, the first impression he made on me was of a ghost—the Ghost of the Great Novelist Past who had sprung to early fame with This Side of Paradise, capped his early promise at age 29 with what many critics hailed as the great American novel, The Great Gatsby, and then had taken nine years to write and publish the book most of the same critics condemned as ‘disappointing,’ Tender is the Night.”

Fitzgerald finished reading the forty-eight-odd pages of the Winter Carnival script and said, “Well, it’s not very good,” to which Schulberg replied, “Oh, I know, I know, I know it’s not good.” They went to lunch at the Brown Derby.

Schulberg and Fitzgerald soon discovered that they knew “everybody in common; it was a small town… We talked about so many writers. We talked about the dilemma of the Eastern writer coming West and writing movies for a living, always with the dream of that one more chance, one more chance to go back and write that novel, write that play that would re-establish him—mostly him, a few hers—once again.” Schulberg told him how much he admired Gatsby, and how much it meant to him, along with the short stories and Tender is the Night.

“I’m really amazed that you know anything about me,” said Fitzgerald. “I’ve had the feeling that nobody in your generation would read me anymore. I have a lot of friends that do. (“That was only partly true,” he said later, “Most of my radical, communist-oriented peers looked on him as a relic.”) Last year my royalties were $13.”

They discussed politics, literature, and gossip. “Scott was tuned into everything we talked about—everything except Winter Carnival. Everything. We went through those things, I think, all afternoon. We decided to meet the next day at the studio at ten, and we did but we got talking about everything but Winter Carnival… and we tried, we really tried. But Winter Carnival was the kind of movie that is very hard to get your mind on, especially when you have the excitement of so many other things that are really more interesting.”
 It was, in other words, a pleasant time, though they were not doing the work for which they were being paid. “After about four or five days, it reminded me of sitting around a campus dormitory room in one of those bull sessions, talking about all the things we both shared and enjoyed.” An additional danger loomed: though they drew salaries, they had not signed contracts and could be fired at any time.

After a week, Wanger called them into his office to check on their progress. Having done hardly any work, they nevertheless managed not to let on that they had been ignoring the script. Wanger said that they’d better create a central storyline soon, since the entire crew was traveling to Hanover to shoot “backgrounds.” (“In those days, they would shoot the backgrounds based on what the scenes were and then in the studio have the actors behaving as if they were at the ski-lift, on the porch of the Inn, and so forth.”)

The Hanover Inn, as pictured around the time that Fitzgerald visited.

The Hanover Inn, as pictured around the time that Fitzgerald visited.

As to whether they should accompany the crew, Fitzgerald was resistant. “Well, Walter, I hadn’t planned to go to Dartmouth. I’ve seen enough college parties, I think, to write a college movie without having to go to the Winter Carnival.” His resistance was perhaps more understandable if you understand that flying in those days required a good chunk of time. “People today don’t realize what flying was. It was just one step away from the Santa Fe Chief. You got on, and you stopped for refueling several times, and it took about sixteen hours.”

To stay employed, Fitzgerald gave in. “While I felt sorry for Scott, I have to admit that I was looking for-ward to going back to Dartmouth with Scott Fitzgerald.” Schulberg regarded his father, the head of Paramount, as one of the more literary producers in town, and this trait made him proud that his son was working with such a figure as Fitzgerald. Therefore, the elder Schulberg brought them two bottles of champagne for the trip. “As we got on the plane, we were still talking,” Schulberg recalled, “We were talking about Edmund Wilson, we were talking about communism, we were talking about the people we knew in common, like Upton Sinclair and Lincoln Steffens. All of this was going on and on. And it would have been great fun if we didn’t have this enormous monkey—more like a gorilla—of Winter Carnival on our backs. We got to sipping champagne through the next hour or so; it was very congenial. It was really fun, I thought, and then we cracked the second bottle of champagne. We went on merrily talking and drinking.”

Every once in a while we would say, ‘You know, by the time we get to Manhattan we’d better have some kind of a line on this Winter Carnival.’ And we tried all kinds of things; we really did try. In Manhattan, they stayed at the Warwick Hotel, where they worked for a bit on the story, to no real end. “Scott,” he said, “You’ve written a hundred short stories, and I’ve written a few: I mean between the two of us we should be able to knock out a damn outline for this story.”

“Yes, we will, we will. Don’t worry, pal. We will, we will,” said Fitzgerald. A few college friends called Schulberg, and it turned out they were staying only a few blocks away. “So I told Scott that I would go and see them; I’d be back in one hour. That was one of my mistakes.” When he returned to the room, he found an unpunctuated note that read, from Schulberg’s memory, “Pal you shouldn’t have left me pal because I got lonely pal and I went down to the bar pal and I came up and looked for you pal and now I’m back down at the bar and I’ll be waiting for you pal.” Schulberg found Fitzgerald in a hotel bar a few blocks away and saw that he was in bad shape, not having eaten anything. Nevertheless, they continued to drink and work on the script back in their room in preparation for the nine A.M. meeting with Wanger at the Waldorf Astoria in the morning. Despite the drink, the lack of sleep, and the fact that they had no story, they successfully evaded Wanger’s detection and were encouraged to keep working. As they got up, Wanger asked in passing, “Oh, by the way, did you meet anybody on the plane?” Schulberg mentioned that they had seen Sheilah Graham, a movie columnist. “And Walter’s face darkened, and he looked at Scott and said, ‘Scott, you son of a bitch.’”

It turned out that Fitzgerald had secretly arranged to have his girlfriend accompany him on the trip, though it might be more correct to say that she was the one who insisted on it. Fitzgerald, in addition to his alcoholism, simply had very poor health. But, in Schulberg’s presence, Fitzgerald and Graham pretended to have met by chance on the plane. Schulberg apologized to Fitzgerald for mentioning it in the Waldorf. “Well, Budd, it’s my fault. I should have told you.” Despite this delay, they managed to make the Carnival Special, the train conveying crowds of females to Dartmouth for the weekend. “They were really like a thousand Scott Fitzgerald heroines, they were…The entire train given over to Winter Carnival.” In 1974, Schulberg revisited Dartmouth and wrote an open letter to Fitzgerald, reminiscing about their little bender. The Carnival Special was apparently the most noticeable absence from the1970s version.

Ground zero for the “Bender of ‘39.”

Ground zero for the “Bender of ‘39.”

“Can you hear me right, Scott? No more Carnival Special! No more train loads of breathless dates, doll-faced blondes and saucy brunettes, the prettiest and flashiest from Vassar, Wellesley, and Smith. Plus the hometown knockouts in form-fitting ski suits, dressed to their sparkling white teeth for what we used to call ‘The Mardi Gras of the North.’ Of course there were some plain faces among them, homespun true loves, as befits any female invasion.”

Though Schulberg had told himself he would keep an eye on Fitzgerald’s drinking, the man had nevertheless managed to procure a pint of gin, which he kept in his overcoat pocket. “One thing that [writers are] able to do, they are like magicians in their ability to hide and then suddenly produce bottles.” Wanger took Schulberg aside and asked him if Fitzgerald had been drinking, to which he answered no, in a sort of writers’ solidarity against producers. “Another thing I should mention in passing is that Scott may have looked as if he was falling down drunk but his mind never stopped,” Schulberg recalled.

When they arrived, the extremely enthusiastic second unit director, Otto Lovering, better known as Lovey, met them on the platform, bright and eager. “Just tell use where to go, boys,” he said to them, “We’re ready, we got the crew… we’re ready to go!” They stalled and asked to go to the Hanover Inn, where they supposed they might think up a story within an hour or so.

When they got to the Hanover Inn, the entire film crew was already there, “twenty people—more, two dozen—everybody had a room at the Inn.” “Sir, we don’t seem to have a reservation for you,” said the desk clerk to Fitzgerald, and as a result Schulberg and Fitzgerald ended up in the attic of the Inn. “It was not really a room meant for people to live in,” remembered Schulberg, “It was sort of an auxiliary room where things were stored.” The room contained a single two-level wire bed, a table, and no chair. “Gee, I’m sorry, Scott, but its hard to believe they’ve forgotten to get a room for us,” said Schulberg.

“Well,” Fitzgerald quipped, “I guess that really does say something about where the film writer stands in the Hollywood society.” (“And he seemed to see it completely in symbols,” Schulberg remembered later.) They stayed in their attic room the entire day, drinking and trying to write. “Scott stretched out on his back in the lower [bunk], and I in the upper, according to our rank, and we tried to ad-lib a story…But the prospect of still another college musical was hardly inspiring, and soon we were comparing the Princeton of his generation with the Dartmouth of mine.”

Dartmouth’s Winter Carnival hits the big screen.

Dartmouth’s Winter Carnival hits the big screen.

“Well, maybe this is good,” thought Schulberg, “The booze will sort of run out. We’re up in the attic; there’s no phone; there’s nothing. And maybe if Scott takes a nap, and we take a deep breath, we’ll just start all over again.”

Periodically, Lovey popped his eager-beaver head into the room. “Where do we go? What’s the first set-up?” Schulberg and Fitzgerald simply pulled locations out of thin air with no relation to any extant plot. They told him on a whim to shoot at the Outing Club: “Well, we have a scene of the two of them as they come down the steps and they look at the frozen pond, and we’ll play that scene there.” They didn’t, in fact, have a scene. Lovey enthusiastically dispatched these fool’s errands: “Great, you’ve done it awfully well.”

And just when it seemed that they’d drunk all the alcohol, the “ruddy-faced, ex-athlete” Professor Red Merrill came into their attic chamber, bearing a bottle of whiskey. Schulberg had been introduced to Fitzgerald’s work in Merrill’s class “Sociology and the American Novel,” and Merrill was a rare Fitzgerald fan. The three of them proceeded to kill this bottle in a few hours while discussing literature. After Merrill left, Lovey ducked in and asked for another set-up, which he received. Fitzgerald was then supposed to attend a reception with the dean (there was at that time only one dean, according to Schulberg) and several other literature-minded faculty members. The idea was that Wanger would present him and Fitzgerald would describe the plot of the film they were shooting. “It was a disaster since it was pretty obvious that not only was Scott drunk, but when I tried to fill in for him, anyone could see that we had no story.”

“One Professor Macdonald (I remember him well; he was a very dapper man, very well-dressed, very feisty) made me feel bad because I thought he was enjoying Scott’s appearance and Scott’s defeat. He said, ‘He’s really a total wreck, isn’t he? He’s a total wreck.’ But he didn’t say it in a nice way to me. At the same time Scott looked as if he was absolutely non compus, but his mind was going fast and well, and he made observations about these people that were much sharper, I think, than anything that Professor MacDonald or anybody else could say.” Then Schulberg realized why Wanger had insisted so strongly on Fitzgerald’s coming to Dartmouth. He had hoped that the college might confer Wanger an honorary degree if he paraded around a writer. “He thought that showing off Scott Fitzgerald, even a faded Scott Fitzgerald, would help him along that road. And now he’d been embarrassed and, in a way, humiliated.”

In The Daily Dartmouth’s February 11, 1939 issue, John D. Hess wrote up an interview with Wanger and Fitzgerald: “The public personality of Walter Wanger ‘15 is a disturbing blend of abruptness and charm. At this particular interview, he sat quietly in a chair exuding power and authority in easy breaths, seemingly indifferent to anything I said, but quickly, suddenly, sharply catching a phrase, questioning it, commenting upon it, grinding it into me, smiling, and then apparently forgetting all about me again. In a chair directly across from Mr. Wanger was Mr. F. Scott Fitzgerald, who looked and talked as if he had long since become tired of being known as the spokesman of that unfortunate lost generation of the 1920’s. Mr. Fitzgerald is working on the script of Mr. Wanger’s picture, Winter Carnival.”

We now know, of course, that Fitzgerald was not tired but three sheets to the wind. Having more or less survived the faculty ordeal, the pair proceeded back to the Inn, where Schulberg encouraged Fitzgerald to take an invigorating nap. He lay down on the bottom bunk, and Schulberg, believing Fitzgerald asleep, snuck off to visit some fraternity chums. Sitting at the fraternity bar not long after this escape, Schulberg felt a tap on his shoulder. It was Fitzgerald. “I don’t know how he got there or found me, but he did. And he looked so totally out of place. He had on his fedora and his overcoat. He was not in any way prepared either in his clothing or his mind for this Winter Carnival weekend.” Supporting him by the arm, Schulberg walked Fitzgerald out of the house and down Wheelock Street. He seemed suddenly to regain his energy and suggested having a drink at Psi U. “And when we got to the Inn… I tried to fool Scott.

“I was trying to get him back in the room. I said, ‘O.K., Scott, here we are,’ and he realized what I was doing and got very mad at me. We had sort of a tussle and we fell down in the snow, kind of rolled in the snow.” After this was resolved, they decided to visit a coffee shop. “[At the coffee shop] it was humorous in a way because there were all those kids enjoying Winter Carnival, and everybody was so up, and we were so bedraggled, so down, worried, in despair.” Suddenly, Fitzgerald went into his element, and told “this marvelous detailed, romantic story of a girl in an open touring car (he described how she was dressed). Over the top of the hill is this skier coming down, and she stops the car and looks at him. Scott described it immaculately well.”

Having finished the coffee, they proceeded back to the Hanover Inn, on whose steps loomed—“as in a bad movie—or maybe in the movie we were trying to write” —none other than Walter Wanger, dressed in a white tie and top hat “like Fred Astaire… He was not a tall man, but standing a step or two above us and with a top hat, he really looked like a Hollywood god staring down at us.”

“I don’t know what the next train out of here is,” Wanger intoned, “but you two are going to be on it.”

“They put us on the train about one o’clock in the morning with no luggage,” Schulberg remembers, “They just threw us on the train.” At dawn they pulled into New York, and Schulberg with the porter had to rouse Fitzgerald and drag him into a cab. They returned to the Warwick they had just left, and apparently experiencing a motif, were greeted with the news that there was no room. Perhaps, Schulberg thought later, their appearance and lack of luggage dissuaded the staff. “Somehow the days had run together and we hadn’t changed. We both looked like what you look like when you haven’t done some of the things that one needs to do to keep yourself together.”

“Have you got a reservation?” the desk staff asked. “Well, we just left,” they responded, although, Schulberg recalled, “It seemed like a year, an eternity… As I look back we had no luggage, and the two of us looked like God knows what. I don’t think we’d changed our clothes from the time we’d left Hollywood. I’m sure we’d hardly gone to bed, maybe an hour or so, half-dressed, in the Warwick.” Several unreceptive hotels later, Fitzgerald said, “Budd, take me to the Doctors’ Hospital. They’ll take me in there at the Doctors’ Hospital.” This worked, and a week later Sheila Graham took Fitzgerald back west.

And the movie makes its in-roads with the public.

And the movie makes its in-roads with the public.

He was of course fired. Schulberg was fired and re-hired. “After Winter Carnival, he was in major trouble,” remembers Schulberg, “You know what a small town it is. Everybody knows everybody else’s business, and Scott was extremely damaged.” Yet, touchingly for Schulberg, Fitzgerald continued to send him notes about the film. “He had great dreams about Hollywood,” Schulberg said, “It was not just the money. Most of the writers I knew—Faulkner and the others—just wanted to get the money and get out. Scott was different. He believed in the movies. … He went to films all the time and he kept a card file of the plots. He’d go back and write out the plot of every film he saw. “Still, the picture itself couldn’t have worked, he said, “For by the end of the 30’s, when we haunted the Carnival, it had become a show in itself. And backstage stories are notoriously resistant to quality.”

Schulberg and Fitzgerald remained good friends afterwards, continuing to discuss what they’d always wished to discuss without the burden of Wanger or his film. Schulberg remained struck by Fitzgerald’s irrepressible, almost boyish enthusiasm for ideas. “One evening, in West Los Angeles,” Schulberg wrote, “I was dashing off, late for a dinner party, when Scott burst in. ‘I’ve just been rereading Spengler’s Decline of the West.’ That was for openers from the playboy of the western world. How did he maintain this incredible sophomoric enthusiasm that all the agonies could not down? I told him I just didn’t have time to go into Spengler now. I was notoriously late and had to run. Scott accepted this with his usual Minneapolis-cum-Princeton-cum-Southern good manners.

‘All right. But we have to talk about it. In the light of what Hitler is doing in Europe. Spengler saw it coming. I could feel it. But did nothing about it. Typical—of the decline of the west.’ Maybe it was to make up for the years frittered away at Princeton, and in the playgrounds of the rich, but, drunk or sober (and except for the Dartmouth trip and one other occasion, I only saw him sober), he never stopped learning, never stopped inquiring.” Schulberg remembers the day he saw Fitzgerald for the last time. “I remember very well it was on the first day of December in 1940, and I was going East; I’d been working on my first novel), I went to say goodbye to Scott, and he was in bed. He lived in a sort of simple, fairly plain apartment right in pretty much the heart of old Hollywood off of Sunset Boulevard right around the corner from Schwab’s Drugstore, which was the hangout for everyone in the neighborhood.

Scott had this desk built for him to rest around him in the bed, as he was pretty frail and feeling weak and at the same time found he could write in bed for two-three hours every day.” He brought a copy of Tender is the Night, which he had Fitzgerald inscribe to his daughter Vicky. The inscription read, “Whose illustrious father pulled me out of snowdrifts and away from avalanches.” (Dartmouth has this inscribed copy in its special collections.) Schulberg asked how his novel, which turned out to be The Last Tycoon, was progressing. Though Schulberg didn’t know the novel’s exact subject matter, he guessed it was Hollywood since Fitzgerald had barraged him with questions about the film industry, and what it had been like growing up around it. Later, Schulberg was mildly disappointed to read in the first pages of The Last Tycoon an insight that he had given Fitzgerald during one off these interviews. It was the idea that Hollywood was an industry town like any other, except that it made movies instead of tires or steel.

Yet, it did not sting too badly: “I’ve known writers (I was raised with them), and I’ve known them from one end of my life to the other. And he was one of the gentlest, kindest, most sympathetic and generous writers I’ve ever met. At the same time, of course, he couldn’t stop lifting something you said because that’s the profession he was in.” In late December 1940, Schulberg had a drink with a Dartmouth professor, Herb West, at the Hanover Inn. West “suddenly but terribly casually looked up from his glass and said, ‘Isn’t it too bad about Scott Fitzgerald?’” This was the first that Schulberg had heard of Fitzgerald’s death of a heart attack in Sheila Graham’s apartment. The obituaries portrayed Fitzgerald as a mere mascot of the Jazz Age, a man unfit for the age of political commitment. Disgusted, Schulberg, John O’Hara, and Edmund Wilson, inter alia, approached The New Republic in 1941 with the idea of a Fitzgerald memorial issue, which ran.

Wanger went on to lead the Association of Alumni and the Motion Picture Academy, while continuing to produce movies. Schulberg testified voluntarily before the House Un-American Activities Committee, explaining that he broke with communism when they tried to interfere with his literary work. He won the Academy Award for the screenplay for On the Waterfront several years later. In 1951, Wanger shot his actress wife’s agent in the groin with a .38 pistol. “I shot him because he broke up my home,” he told the police. The incident was well-covered in the papers. He served four months in prison. Schulberg’s The Disenchanted, published in 1950, was widely seen as a roman-à-clef about Fitzgerald and became a bestseller. It renewed interest in Fitzgerald and his novels, which were reprinted. Today, his critical reputation is unassailable.

This set piece to the Review‘s Winter Carnival coverage was written by Nicholas S. Desai.